Thursday, 3 October 2013

[REVIEW] - Prisoners

Jake Gyllenhaal interrogating Paul Dano in Prisoners

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Incendies)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo
Certificate: 15
Run-time: 153 minutes

IN SHORT: Harrowing and emotionally stimulating. Prisoners is a morality rollercoaster and one of the best thrillers in recent times.

What would you do if you are certain of a person's guilt but there's no physical evidence to prove they committed the crime? Would you take the law into your own hands? Yes? No? What if that person's crime was the abduction and possible murder of your only daughter? What would you be willing to do in order to gain a confession? This is the situation family-man Dover Keller (Hugh Jackman) finds himself in when he becomes tired of (what he see's as) police inaction. After suspected child abductor Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is released without charges, Keller does his own form of questioning as he tortures Alex for six long days.

With its Zodiac-like narrative meandering, it would be unfair to divulge anymore of Prisoners storyline. I will say this though - director Denis Villeneuve and his script-writer, Aaron Guzikowski, constantly kept me guessing. Prisoners is real 'edge on your seat' stuff as Guzikowski only lets the audience know as much as the movie's lead investigator; the neurotic Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). Prisoners forces the viewer to confront their own moral compass as it toys with the possibility that Alex is innocent. Guzikowski's script is rich in character and with the exception of Maria Bello (who plays a sickly, rather useless grieving mother), the main characters are all empathetic and multi-dimensional.

Hugh Jackman grabbing Paul Dano in Prisoners
Dover is far from happy when Alex is released from police custody.
There's a palpable atmosphere to Prisoners that's visually expressed through the oppressive grey skies, the constant downpour of rain and a greyscale colour palette. The gritty textures and intense feeling of unease is rather similar to David Fincher's Se7en, although thankfully there are no heads in boxes! It's no surprise that photographic genius Roger Deakins (Skyfall, True Grit, Shawshank Redemption) is the cinematographer. The camerawork in Prisoners is simultaneously naturalistic and cinematic, again showcasing Deakins' eye for a beautifully framed shot (a deep focus zoom on a tree is just one disturbing shot in a movie full of memorable moments). The camera is as much a character as Dover, Alex and Loki as it subtly navigates itself around the actors. 

The performances are fantastic across the board. Hugh Jackman could land his second consecutive Oscar nomination with his unhinged and controversial portrayal of a desperate father. His on-screen nemesis, Paul Dano, is haunting as a dim-witted outcast with the IQ of a 10-year old. Due to a difficult childhood, Alex doesn't speak much, forcing Dano to convey the man's awkwardness through body language and physicality. Both Jackman and Dano are so engaging because their characters are neither good nor bad, they both do questionable, morally reprehensible things during the course of the movie.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki in Prisoners
Loki tries to emotionally separate himself from the case but it proves difficult.
Although the entire cast is fantastic, Jake Gyllenhaal is the stand-out performer. Detective Loki is driven by duty, almost to the point of obsession and the fact that he's never failed to solve a case gradually suffocates him. He isn't your typical movie cop but Gyllenhaal's nuanced performance, complete with nervous ticks and intermittent blinks, helps you connect with him and his struggle to solve this complicated child abduction saga. Loki's extensive tattoo's point to a troubled, or colourful, past and this is something I wish the movie had explored a little more. At the start of the movie it's Thanksgiving and he's eating alone in an empty Chinese restaurant. How did he become so disconnected from the world? 

All-in-all, Prisoners is a must see movie and one of the best whodunnits? in recent memory. The initially intimidating 153 minute run-time absolutely breezes by, there's not one superfluous scene or flabby moment of dialogue. Helped by Deakins' sublime skill behind the camera and the acting talent infront of it, Villeneuve has produced a picture unrelentingly tense, unsettling and evocative. With its problematic discourse and masterful ambiguity Prisoners is a morality rollercoaster that will have you thinking long after you've munched on your popcorn.


  1. Great review, Ben! I can't wait to see this one. Jackman looks just great and I think, his role is a fine material for successful awards season. Let's see

    1. Thanks Nika. This film could do well Academy-wise. Best original script, best cinematography, best supporting actor (Gyllenhaal). There's not much this year that's matched it but it's still only October!

  2. Good review Ben. The ensemble really worked their assess off in this movie, and it shows. They make the movie a lot better than it truly is, especially the last-act when things begin to get a tad conventional.

    1. Such a great cast. Oscar nominations await, me thinks.

  3. Loved gylenhaal's ticks! That's probably a weird thing to single out from this film, but I loved the tattoos and the facial ticks. Totally believable.

    1. He added so much nuance to his character. There are a lot of people on IMDB arguing about whether the blinking is Gyllenhaal's personal tick or something he added specifically to the character. I'm gonna go with the latter.

      Thanks for stopping by Annie!




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